Never Break the Chain

Why You Should Embrace Support from Others - bulldog yoga

There is always a chain holding us to what matters

One of my favorite classic rock groups sings about a chain. When you think about chains do you think about something bad, holding you down, keeping you bound, limiting your freedom, heavy and constricting?

But chains can also fulfill useful purposes:

  • That’s how we anchor the ship and keep it from drifting.
  • Remember that chain on the front door so you could open it and peer out?
  • I had a friend who kept his big wallet chained to his beltloop.
  • Can a bracelet be like a chain? My wife had a big giant charm bracelet that she added to over the years. It needed a hefty series of links to hold all those memories.

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ― Thomas Merton

What kind of an anchor is your family?

Almost everyone starts out life intertwined with family. It’s hard to imagine how we would even survive without these essential people who insert themselves and society at large inside of us. As prickly as that usually becomes once you hit adolescence. Your parents enable you to survive and also teach you how to survive as the unique person that you are.

“We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.” ― Charles Taylor

Think about all the ways that you are wrapped up in the history, rhythm and life of the people all around you. It’s easy to put your family in this category. Sure we are all tied together, for better or worse, right? For almost everyone, our families integrate us into the world in healthy and productive ways. They prepare and launch us so that we will thrive. Sometimes we hear about families that fetter members to disaster. In most large American cities, the number one reason that police get called is a family related disturbance. Families teach us how tied up we are to other people, emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually and even logistically. Don’t you think civilization rests upon the love and care of moms and dads?

Right now, send a note or card to someone in your family, a distant extended member. In fact, buy a stack of cards so that you’re always ready to send something. There’s bound to be someone in your big family who needs some kindness right now.

“When I lived in a small town, the whole town got together to help my family when tragedy struck our home. Now in a big city, my neighbor one block down doesn’t know who I am.” ― James Hauenstein

It’s midnight, do you know where your friends and neighbors are?

A few weekends past, new neighbors were having a celebration in the back around their pool. Music was included. Music that made all of my windows vibrate. I’m certain everyone on two or three nearby streets were swept up into the party via the rhythmic drumming of each tune. After a time I realized that I’ve lived here almost 25 years and never had a single bit of friction with anyone living near. In my neighborhood there are people with last names from all over the world. We are all tied up together, yet following a similar set of norms and managing cohesion. That’s amazing, don’t you think?

The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey discovered that Americans have fewer close friendships than they once did, they talk to their friends less, and no longer depend as much on friends for personal support. Maybe the recent pandemic has set us back. We remain disconnected from our friends both physically and emotionally. Sure, friends can be a lot of trouble, but in the end they are vital to your health.

What can you do? Get in contact with that friend of yours, you know who I mean. Go have lunch or a long phone call. Get caught up. Strengthen that chain.

“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” ― Goethe

4,316 Two Friends Talking Serious Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

When I use this metaphor of a chain holding each one of us to what matters most, I think about it in three important ways:

(1) There are our relationships that keep us tied to individual people, to roles with responsibilities and to the rules of living that we learn and pass on. Remember that family becomes for almost everyone that first significant model of how relationships work (or don’t).

When I was a young adult, I don’t remember that being connected to others was very important. I’m certain I just took others for granted, like the sun coming up. The chains that hold us to each other always take some degree of conscious effort.

“When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion – through the fact that for that someone (or for ourself) we take an extra step or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.” ― M. Scott Peck

(2) Intertwined within these relationships are all of the feelings that are invested in us and that we in turn plant within the furrows of memory. These emotions tie us to places, experiences and to our significant relationships. My friend calls his mother every Sunday afternoon, probably for all sorts of reasons, but I think mostly and deep down, because of the devotion that binds mothers and sons.

These connections aren’t limited to emotions. I’m thinking about examples like obligation, reciprocity and trust. These are like glue that enable us to take so much for granted and lean into one another. We don’t have to start from scratch with each person in our life.

What is the meaning of "“Someone holds the door for you.”"? - Question about English (US) | HiNative

I still cry out for you, don’t leave me, don’t leave me…  Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac

(3) When thinking about our connections in the world, don’t forget the social institutions all around us. These include our family, church, work, the news, and even healthcare. As you get older or seriously ill, you can imagine how essential your relationship will be with your doctor and health providers. When we were fighting cancer, our oncologist made incredible efforts to connect with us personally at each visit. He was working hard to heal us at multiple levels. I hate to tell you this, but as you age you might have to take handfuls of pills each day. My great revelation here was having mine delivered in dated packets. What an invention! BUT, I still visit our little local pharmacy and pick up a few prescriptions because of the close relationship we developed with everyone that works there. I think that should always beat convenience. 

“A few years ago, a priest working in a slum section of a European city was asked why he was doing it, and replied, ‘So that the rumor of God may not completely disappear.” ― Peter L. Berger

There are chains that we should work to remove:

  • relationships that bring harm to any part of you, inside and out
  • self-talk that keeps wounding instead urging you forward
  • bad habits that keep us spinning our wheels instead of climbing to the stars

I’m thinking about what needs to be reinforced in my life and what I need to turn loose. I only want to be bound up to what love can make anew.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ― Herman Melville

(Do you think Melville really wrote that? He’s the Moby Dick author, remember?)

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Suffering and Obedience

christ_in_gethsemane

“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” – Hebrews 5:8 (NLT)

I can’t explain it.

How did Jesus, who was fully God – fully man, need to learn anything?

He had free will because he was a man.

He had to choose to suffer. He had to choose to follow the path set out from all eternity for him to follow.

If you haven’t already, you are going to suffer in this life. Sometimes, you are going to have to make some choices, the right choices. Doing what’s right can be uncomfortable, painful, lonely and even cause some suffering.

Choosing to walk in faith each day will mean some hard choices along the way. We live extraordinary lives here in the USA and typically aren’t challenged with painful or even life/death choices when it comes to practicing our faith. What puts our faith to death are all the little choices we don’t make every single day.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
― Charles Dickens,  A Christmas Carol

When suffering comes your way there are often choices along each painful step. The right choices can heal your soul in ways that will last forever. It is possible for your Heavenly Father to transform even the most terrible suffering into something miraculous. When we lay it at His feet, all of our pain, all of our worries, each terrible moment can all be redeemed somehow. Our suffering can have eternal meaning when we obey.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” – James 1:2-4

How Long Will It Take?

joseph_dream1

There are all kinds of prisons. We are all bound to live some part of our life trapped.  Sometimes it’s just because of terrible circumstances like illness or a tumbling economy. Some prisons are of our own making, consequences of bad choices and evil desires.

However you got there, how long do you have to stay in prison before something significant changes? If you look carefully at the story of Joseph from the Old Testament you see a man who let his prison experience transform him into someone remarkable.

When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks….Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt. – Genesis 37:2, 28

He was thirty years old when he began serving in the court of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And when Joseph left Pharaoh’s presence, he inspected the entire land of Egypt.  – Genesis 41:46

How long does it take to go from being a selfish punk to the most influential man in Egypt? He seems to have spent a good part of thirteen years as a slave to Potiphar and then in prison because of the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife. His physical imprisonment came to an end when he was able to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. He told the king…

“It is beyond my power to do this, but God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”  – Genesis 41:16

This is the same man who as a teenager spent too much time dancing around his brothers flaunting that “amazing technicolor dreamcoat” their father had given to only him. He was such a miserable person to be around, they felt like killing him, literally.

What happened to him during those years in slavery and prison that transformed him into a man who could calmly walk into the court of the most powerful king on earth and bear witness of the power of God?

As incredible as it reads, Joseph’s story is everyone’s story. We all face opportunities to either be transformed or remain in prison. There are all kinds of prisons that enslave people. Defeats can fall on us like a flood. No one is immune.

Wherever you are right now – whatever the prison might look like – it doesn’t matter how you got there. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you are going to get out – often this is out of your control. Think about the ways that relationships evolve, long-term sickness, a career that’s changing. What always matters is what’s happening to you while you are in that prison. What is God going to do in your life, with your life, through your life because of this experience?

When people are in prison they always face a number of choices:

  • Prison can cripple people. Even when released people often carry within them, for too long, their imprisonment experience. It haunts them even as they walk in freedom. It is as if they remain in prison and die a little every single day. They relive their defeats like a never ending re-run of doom.
  • In prison, some people build a new life – a future self. This takes time, involves others and there are certainly mistakes along the way. When freedom comes, they are ready to start life anew, their thinking has changed and they see with a bigger vision. But they have to wait for freedom to arrive in order to start living their new life.
  • Others learn, over time, to differentiate between internal and external circumstances – they come to recognize what is passing and what is eternal. They can see beyond their chains and recognize what is temporary and what matters. The prison experience transforms their perspective and in so doing it provides an eternal freedom. No matter where they find themselves, these people discover true freedom.

What is prison doing for you? For Joseph it was a time to wait until just the right time. It was an experience that transformed him into a man ready to serve God, not his own wishes.

It seems strange to urge that you pray, not to be set loose from your chains, but instead to let your earthly chains set you truly free.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet